PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION – YEAR A
It is amazing how current events can prove to be a lens through which we read a particular passage of Scripture to gain fresh insights. That proves to be the case with St. Matthew’s version of the Passion which we have just heard, albeit in an abbreviated version. When I began to prepare this homily, I read it as a person in isolation who will be addressing other people in isolation. And I found the concept of isolation of special help in seeking to enter into Jesus’ experience in his final hours.
From the time that Jesus and the disciples arrive in Gethsemane, they become increasingly isolated. Judas has already isolated himself through his betrayal. Peter and the sons of Zebedee, whom Jesus begs to stay awake and pray with him, promptly fall asleep, leaving Jesus to himself just when he needs their company the most. Unlike St. Luke’s version of the Passion, Matthew’s makes no mention of an angel sent to comfort Our Lord.
Upon Jesus’ arrest, he is without friend or comforter. All of his disciples scatter and hide. Peter, at least, follows at a distance; but his triple denial of the Master, as Jesus prophesied, pushes him farther away from Jesus. Simon of Cyrene does not help Jesus to carry his cross; he carries it alone behind Jesus. Our Lord meets no weeping women as he makes his way to Calvary; and the only advocate he has is, ironically, Pilate’s wife. The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee are forced to stand at a distance from the cross, helpless. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus do not even make an appearance until after Jesus has died. Finally, and most tragically, Jesus gives voice to his feeling of being isolated even from his beloved Abba. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This has been a Lent like no other. We have already spent a good portion of it practicing social distancing, and now we face Holy Week while still in isolation. It is so painful to be separated from the members of our parish family at this most solemn and holy week of the year. But precisely the pain of being isolated offers us a unique opportunity to unite ourselves with the Man of Sorrows who goes to his Cross and hangs upon it in isolation. He has been betrayed, denied, rejected, shunned. This year we feel that aspect of his Sacred Passion more vividly than ever before.
May I commend to your prayers some of the people who must endure that pain as nothing less than agony. They are the women and men who long to be close to family members and loved ones in their time of peril, perhaps even their death agony, but must be apart. They are the mourners who are prevented from receiving the consoling rituals that surround death and give vitally needed support at a critical time. They are the legions of health care workers who dare not return home at the end of a shift to hug spouses and children but must stay apart for fear of spreading infection to those they love most. They are all of the generous volunteers who normally staff food pantries and soup kitchens, but must remain in isolation. They are the teachers separated from their students. And yes, dare I add this, they are the priests and pastors who cannot walk in company with their beloved parishioners during this season of testing.
And so, the words of the hymn we have been singing through all of Lent still ring in my ears and lodge in my heart.
I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my Destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away.
We have set our hearts for the way;
this journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone.
The journey makes us one.
See, I leave the past behind;
a new land calls to me.
Here among you now I find
a glimpse of what might be.
There are no upcoming events.